The Care and Feeding of Your Brain, Part 1

Who doesn’t want to learn quickly; remember well; feel alert; and be cheerful and optimistic? Hello brain, we’ve decided to take good care of you! Beyond what we usually think of as mental function, we should remember that if the brain isn’t working, then ultimately nothing works. That is because, along with our gut bacteria, the brain controls most of the body’s functions, right down to breathing and swallowing.

This is the first part of a library page that I’m building about the brain. You will see that the basics boil down to obeying the two prime directives of being “healthy by nature”—(1) give the body everything it needs for optimum function and (2) don’t gum up the works with things it cannot handle. I’m starting with rule #2. The list below is far from exhaustive, but it should give you the idea.

Rule #2—Don’t gum up the brain with damaging toxins and excesses:

  • Smoking. I probably don’t need to say much on this because even smokers know that the habit is bad for most every aspect of health. However, here is a good article if you need more encouragement to quit.
  • Anticholinergic drugs. Before you are tempted to say “I don’t take any”, hold on because many of these look innocent on retail store shelves. They include some antihistamines, most nighttime meds, some for nausea, urinary control and heartburn. See if any of these OTC brands sound familiar: Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Benadryl, Dimetapp, Dramamine, Excedrin PM, Nyquil, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, and Tylenol PM. Anticholinergics interfere with an important brain signaling compound, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The more of these you take and the longer you are on them, the worse the long term damage. According to this Harvard article, “taking an anticholinergic for the equivalent of three years or more was associated with a 54% higher dementia risk than taking the same dose for three months or less.” The list of prescription drugs with anticholinergic effects is quite long and includes meds for allergy, anxiety, bladder control, depression, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, insomnia, muscle relaxation, and pain. Here is a good article on the subject with a list of common drugs. It is best to ask your pharmacist and/or do a web search for the name of your drug and the word anticholinergic.
  • Heartburn drugs. These increase dementia risk in a different way from the anticholinergics. They block stomach acid which needed to provide the body (and brain!) with protein, minerals and especially vitamin B12. I’ll discuss B12 in more depth when I add rule #1 to the brain page, but we discussed this crucial brain and nerve vitamin at length in an interview with Sally M. Pacholok RN BSN, the author of Could It Be B12? (Second Edition): An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses. These drugs are so damaging that I wrote a whole book about them.

In a future installment of what you should NOT do to your brain, I will talk about antibiotics, agricultural chemicals, sugar, and more.

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